EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tight end Darren Waller hauled in a pass deep down the right sideline on the first play of OTAs that was open to the media this spring. Then Darius Slayton hit a deep seam on the first day of minicamp, and newly-signed wide receiver Parris Campbell used his speed for a chunk play on a crosser just moments later.
This is what the Giants envisioned when they went to work this offseason to improve the roster. They loaded up on speed -- both in free agency and the draft -- in an attempt to make their offense more explosive.
It was easy to see this spring that this new group of receivers at quarterback Daniel Jones’ disposal is exponentially more dynamic. Waller, Campbell, third-round pick Jalin Hyatt and even free-agent acquisition Jeff Smith have an abundance of speed.
“Yeah, this is definitely probably the fastest total complete group that I've played with in my career,” Campbell said. “I mean, we’ve got speed all across the board.
“It's speed that can do a lot of different things. It's not just guys running in a straight line fast, it's ball-in-the-hands fast, in-their-routes fast. We complement each other. I'm excited for what's to come.”
General manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll recognized this to be a priority after their first year in charge. The Giants finished dead last with 28 pass plays of 20-plus yards last season. Slayton had 14 of those 28, mostly deep down the sideline.
Jones was 0-for-5 on passes of 20-plus yards inside the hashes, according to NextGen Stats. This was perhaps the biggest noticeable difference this spring. Jones was utilizing the deep middle of the field much more often at OTAs and minicamp than at any point last year, his first with Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
“The name of the game for those guys to get open is to use their speed,” quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney said. “You can see that with Parris. You can see that with Waller, Jalin, Jeff Smith. All those guys we added can roll. That helps the risk/reward, the faster those guys are running downfield, the easier it is to make the decision because it is happening that much faster for us. They’ve been great additions.”
It will make a difference in how the Giants offense looks this season, but it’s still a work in progress.
“Yeah, a lot of new guys,” Daboll said. “We’re still trying to figure things out. We move guys around; we shuffle them in and out. Obviously, there's some faster guys that we have out here. But we're still working through that.”
The WR mix
It was mostly Campbell working out of the slot, Slayton and Hodgins out wide and Waller all over the field with the first-team offense. That’s in part because Sterling Shepard (knee) and Wan’Dale Robinson (knee) worked on the side as part of their rehab from torn ACLs.
Shepard appeared further along in his rehab, although both are progressing well.
Campbell, who was signed this offseason as a free agent, is destined for a significant role regardless. The Giants think he can do more than be the 68-catch player he was with the Indianapolis Colts last season if he’s healthy in this offense. This spring only validated what they thought they could be getting.
“Parris has done a good job [developing chemistry with Jones] as well,” Daboll said.
Maybe it’s because Robinson and Shepard aren’t practicing yet, but it just seems that Campbell will be a big part of this offense. It's possible he'll end up being the wide receiver with the most catches for the Giants this season. Remember, Richie James led all Giants WRs in catches last year.
Leonard Williams’ future
Leonard Williams’ cap hit this season for the Giants is outlandish. (Thanks, Dave Gettleman!) He’s currently slated to count $32.3 million against the cap for 2023. That’s the third-largest cap hit of any player, behind only quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Tannehill.
The Giants haven’t shown any interest in adjusting that this year, at least to this point, with a restructure or an extension.
“There hasn't been many talks about it this offseason,” Williams said. “I'm obviously open to staying here. I think I have a good camaraderie with my teammates. I would love to keep playing with [Dexter Lawrence]. I would love to keep playing with these coaches that I've gotten to know.
“I'm also not one of those type of players that wants to bounce around team to team. I want to be able to be here. Been through the grind and the struggle of being with the Giants since I've been here, coming out on the good end, eventually getting a ring with them.”
It’s possible (albeit unlikely) the Giants come to Williams this summer and try to get something done, whether it be an extension or pay cut. That would only make sense if they need more cap space, though they are currently $4.14 million under the cap.
The Giants might need to create more space to get through the season if they don’t reach a long-term extension with running back Saquon Barkley, who was absent from offseason workouts as he has not signed the franchise tag in hopes of a new deal. Adjusting Williams’ contract in some capacity is one of the possible solutions.
Cornerback Nick McCloud is working at safety. This comes after he performed well in some dime coverages last season where he handled slot receivers. The second starting safety spot opposite Xavier McKinney is wide open. McCloud has a chance to win that job, along with Jason Pinnock, Dane Belton, Bobby McCain and others.
Hyatt is coming along slowly and working primarily with the third-team offense. He’ll have to work his way up the depth chart at a crowded position. He could rise this summer as the roster thins out.
Rookie Eric Gray seems to be among the frontrunners to win a job as a returner. He returned some punts and kicks at Oklahoma and Tennessee, although not with any frequency and without much success.
The Giants' defense looks so much different with free agent add Bobby Okereke as a three-down lock after starting Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis in the playoffs last season. Okereke has already hit it off with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who has said “it’s fun to watch him play.” Okereke seems destined to thrive in this defense.